In-Depth Insights

1. Going Beyond Rationality

Negotiating successfully requires more than just logic because we humans are not always persuaded by rationality and don’t always accept logic, opting for unpredictable behaviour and letting our primal instincts take over instead.

Our cognitive biases make us act irrationally. This was discovered by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Amos Tversky which upended the 1970s research that said that negotiation was based on humans acting rationally to their own advantage. Kahneman and Tversky identified not just 1 cognitive bias but 150 unique biases. This means that a wise negotiator must understand the human psyche to be successful.

Remember, negotiating skills are not only required in the boardroom and court of law. We all negotiate on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. Think about bedtime negotiations with your kids, negotiations with your spouse over what to do at the weekend, and asking your boss for a pay raise.


2. Connection Starts with Respect

Before negotiations can begin you want to know as much information as possible about the situation and the person or people you’re going to be negotiating with. You want to know their needs, goals, and motivations.

In a hostage situation, for example, the negotiator needs to know what the kidnapper wants to achieve, whether they have weapons, whether what they are saying is true or false, how many kidnappers and hostages are inside a building, and so forth.

Creating an amicable connection with the other person is a must hence why you always see FBI agents talking to the criminal. This allows them to learn about their counterparts needs, goals, motivation, as well as their personality whilst also gaining trust which is essential for gaining information.


3. From Active Listening to Trust

How do you build trust? Listen to the other person closely and repeat what they say in an inquisitive tone. This technique is called mirroring and shows that you’re empathetic to the other person and understand their point of view and what they are going through.

In a bank robbery situation, for example, let’s say that the robber is asking for a vehicle and has told the negotiator that his driver fled. In this situation, Chris Voss recommends asking the robber “was the driver chased off?” The robber will then feel the need to clarify, allowing the negotiator to piece together more information using the mirroring technique subsequently allowing for the driver to be apprehended.

Mirroring is an effective trust building technique, because it makes the counterpart feel that the person they’re talking to, in this case, the FBI negotiator, is similar to them despite us outsiders realizing that he is just doing his job and trying to resolve the situation peacefully. This technique isn’t only  used in hostage situations, however.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman tested the effectiveness of mirroring in a restaurant when wait staff were taking orders. He asked one group of waiters and waitresses to use the mirroring technique (e.g. “...so you want the salad but without dressing and then the chicken?”) and the other group to use positive words (such as “no problem” and “great”). The staff who used mirroring received 70% more tips than those who used positive words.


4. Adjusting Tone of Voice

The way someone says something is often more important than what they say. Therefore, when negotiating you must remember that the tone of your voice could well make or break the negotiation.

When you’re talking to someone who is becoming angry or upset, you should use a soft and deep voice to calm them down. This soothing voice in which you speak slowly and reassuringly is known as the ‘late-night DJ voice’.

If you need to encourage someone, then you can use a positive and playful tone of voice to show that you’re easy-going yet still empathetic. You want to smile from time to time to convey this even more as, even if the other person cannot see your face, they will be able to hear that smile in your voice. Try the positive tone out when you’re haggling for a better deal whether at a flea market or in a car salesroom and see what happens..


5. Tuning Into Emotional Cues

Pay attention to the other person’s emotions and use empathy to your advantage - You don’t have to agree with them, just understand them. Psychotherapists, for example, tap into their patients' emotions so they can help them.  You as a negotiator can do the same.

When Chris Voss was called in to negotiate with 4 escaped inmates, who were hiding out in an apartment and thought to be in possession of weapons, he was able to label their emotions. This helped him  acknowledge and empathize with the escaped prisoners. Voss told them that he understood they were worried that if they came out of the apartment that they would be shot. He explained that he understood that they were scared and that they did not want to go back to prison. After six hours of communicating with them and building trust with the labeling technique, Voss convinced the prisoners to surrender with no one on either side getting hurt.

Labeling and “Tactical Empathy” are calming techniques that negotiators use to build rapport and consists of telling the other person that you acknowledge his or her feelings, motivations, and position and understand their feelings. This can be invaluable when dealing with someone who is acting irrationally. 


6. Don’t Accept a Bad Deal

Sometimes people are so keen to find a resolution to a conflict that they end up with a result that is not convenient. To ensure you don’t find yourself in this situation don’t compromise, don’t rush, and don’t accept a bad deal - don’t ‘split the difference’.

The problem with rushing and presuming is that sometimes the counterpart has needs that we are not even aware of which can skew the request and outcome when we wade in fast with a compromise.

Take kidnapping situations as an example and imagine that a kidnapper is saying that unless they get one million dollars by noon tomorrow they’ll kill the hostage. The kidnapper is claiming they want money, but in fact, they might be trying to make a statement. As such, giving the kidnapper the money doesn’t mean the hostage will be released. Know that deadlines are generally flexible so don’t rush and make a mistake by thinking that the deadline is the be all and end all - Negotiate!

In another kidnapping case that Chris Voss negotiated involving the wife of a Haitian police officer who was held for ransom he noticed an interesting pattern. The kidnappers would only request money on weekdays and go quiet on weekends. Voss realized that the kidnappers needed money for a partying habit. This indicated that the deadline and ransom amount were negotiable. Had he compromised due to the pressure of a deadline, he would have missed vital information. His patience, however, enabled him to successfully resolve the situation. Have patience and don’t accept a bad deal!